Sunday, January 7, 2007
LISA LUBASCH—TWENTY-ONE AFTER DAYS
After burning up during the first two entries, during the third entry into the atmosphere of Lisa Lubasch’s Twenty-One After Days, I finally was able to penetrate and safely land in the little space that Lubasch had cleared for visitors to linger a while with her.
Make no mistake. Twenty-One After Days is largely about atmospherics. There is more ambience in this book than there is anything else. The reader is led through a nearly incessant collection of image phrases and physical details interspersed with phrases that express the internal thinking life of the author replete with its many twists and folds.
The accretion of these many fragments, sometimes demarcated by em dashes, sometimes by commas, presents a fairly wide associational palette. Yet in the end, I was struck by the speaker/channeler (because I had an odd feeling that the words were being delivered to the author as much as they were being willed into existence) as being primarily a householder. The items invoked never seemed very far afield, usually not beyond what is contained in a room or framed by a picture window. There is a lot of waiting and enduring going on.
Recently, a friend revealed to me that he “did not get being.” This, most assuredly, would not be the book for him. There’s not one car crash mentioned in the whole book. The book urges us on by hopefully offering:
but patience may bloom backward into knowledge — covered in nettles — and bannering spirals — and the sleepy eye is shaded
With this it seemed to me that Lubasch was encouraging patience on the part of the reader, for the mini-explosions of insight that a long wait seems to frequently provide. Lubasch is committed to this project of long, slow meditation and contemplation after the day has wound to a close:
luminous scatter — unaware — of other diverse events — their meager capacity — for astonishment — barren ideas — loosing themselves from — legitimate reception — and so content to stutter vaguely — inside a meaningless hour — of lapsing — and converging — the day beside us — shading — in the course of its contention — which has withered — which has turned
Perhaps Lubasch finds her mantra in the following:
all concentration being,
this internal movement,
However, this beauty that Lubasch evokes is a very private one, one that I presume many others will have difficulty in appreciating its attributes. One luxuriates with Lubasch the way one takes a hot bath or throws back a scotch or a beer or a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day. This reflective moment where the presence of your immediate physical space announces itself is the way of Lubasch in this book. She seems content in the little mental space she has carved out within her domicile. Or as she puts it:
from inside — as the mind is —
pulled — cordoning off a place —
Sit back and watch her watch herself thinking. This is not a spectator sport for amateurs. It is meant to entice all those other lovers of the contemplative life, lovers of those moments in the day that feel like a swallowed pill.
It is curious, then, why Lubasch decides to organize her fragments in paragraph form (in section 1 of the book instead of down the page butting against the left hand margin). Texts that align on the left hand margin tend to evoke more open space. They suggest that one should linger over them as discrete objects that warrant further examination. Running the fragments together as she does at the outset suggests denseness of thought, a flurry of contemplative activity that may result in a disturbance of the bathroom’s fragile ecosystem. It suggests a kind of colon blockage, perhaps from the incomplete digestion of the elements in the room or perhaps from too much sitting and thinking.
But Lubasch seems content to pursue the rewards of this mode of existence. For her, patience is more than a virtue. It is a way of engaging the world and allowing oneself to be thrilled by its minutiae. Patience is the way, the tao.
Though it’s uncertain
Is amplified as envy, or as
They carve out
Some paths more than others
While also shaking their heads, no and no
Almost always, within patience
The voice (not so much the physically present voice but that kind of voice which creative writers attach as a critical term to the uniqueness of spirit) also makes an appearance at the end of section 3.
rehearsing at its boundaries
in through the door and stops a wave clandestine forward through the door
it curls cuts into the rain running at its vision awkwardly poised against the wind
or balked at pressed against its circle
. . .
it curls cuts into the line
it cannot hear
a gesture vain abundance
of its heart
Here Lubasch depicts the interior voice in Twenty-One After Days as “curling”, an action which suggests that it is turning in on itself to produce a design like a whorled fingerprint. But not only does this fingerprint proclaim its own existence, it also seems to acknowledge that there is a lot of this curling going on. Its “vain abundance” is the heart of its project, its raison d’etre. Whether there is too much curling going on depends on the time, space, and culture that the reader is fixed in. Yet it is just this fixedness that Lubasch is intending to explore. The whorled fingerprint of her voice is left on all the furniture, and as one reads the book, one must decide whether or not to reach for the can of furniture spray to eradicate all the smudges.
I live in a house with 6-and 8-year-old boys, so not only are smudges tolerated, they are greeted as essential to one’s existence if sanity is preferred to a debilitating form of progressive madness. One tolerates mess and learns to call it magic. And out of this squalor comes the defining principle that Lubasch puts forth: mess suggests things going on, a busy mind’s passionate involvement with the world, whereas a tidy and measured presentation suggests a life organized by task.
With Lubasch we are decidedly off task. We are off task because the mind is busy trying to attach meaning, a logical framework to the world.
premises scattered — fitfully, the mind hastens — painfully compelled —along an observation — in various points — mark out time — bent — split — staged — they will not come to rest —
So it goes . . . the drama of cognition. Unexpected cognition. Via the tides of introspection. Yet somehow:
a meaning disentangles
from its own philosophy
Often in trying to keep up with the meandering phrases of Lubasch I am left with the distinct feeling that I am watching Jello harden. For those others out there who are also fans of colloid sports, you know that the best way to enjoy such a spectacle is to delay discrimination. One must let the mind blur over the course of events. To some this may seem like vacuousness, but this state of mind seems to be the point from which Lubasch’s project emerges. The more one is able to enter into that state of creative numbness, the more one attains Lubasch’s imperative in the book: to exist on the cusp of becoming other.
Of course, this is a process that takes some time. It proceeds in fits and starts. It is fixed, and it is not. It is wound, then unraveled. It’s force on a pressure point, then it is released. This kind of improvised dance occurs on nearly every page. She reminds her readers that she should not be asked to carry a stopwatch.
But the emergent fictive self and the dislocated self are surely Lubasch’s concerns. The quotation on page 60 from Deleuze’s Pure Immanence [“We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE, and nothing else”] clarifies the importance of the ineffable moment being spontaneously rendered into words. That is all there is.
During my attenuated theory-laden days, Deleuze was always my favorite theorist. In A Thousand Plateuas the metaphors he used for becoming appealed to the scientist foundation in me. I intuitively understood his description of the self as an outgrowth of the natural world. The nomad, the rhizome were very powerful and apt for me. However, I found it to be almost unlivable, at least not for very long.
The idea of searching in order to acquire “data” that would glom together at a key locus point did make sense, but it was hard to hold a conversation with someone based on that premise, especially if the person I was conversing with did not aspire to the same code. What, then, is the obligation to halt the search, the drift while one is trying to engage and communicate with the world? Should I become-intense/become-animal while I am ordering fries at McDonald’s/green tea at the co-op?
I searched Lubasch’s book for hints at the moral obligation one has to things within one’s “field” and outside of one’s “field,” and I found only one passage that deals with the other:
a promise grows — impure —
in the transfer —
to another —
it is — in its abjection —
reading its own hieroglyph — out of mourning — out of air —
understanding — only — identity —
it speaks — to an arrow — saying — “yes yes”—
anything to hear its voice —
repeatable — as a vacant room
I have a little trouble parsing this only because I usually don’t think of the dominant feature of a vacant room as “being repeatable.” It seems to be saying that sadness, dreariness, loneliness, difficulty weighs on another until it is taken up by that other. But there is no rumination on the duty and obligation to the other who comes into contact with the speaker/channeler. The solipsism continues.
Again, perhaps this is Lubasch’s commentary on drearily being locked into a solitary state due to sadness or contemplation so much so that the social world recedes in favor of a highly personalized one. One can’t escape oneself in such a state. This does not mean there is nothing to be gained from lingering there, waiting for the omnipresence of the world to spark a creative gesture again.
In the end, the primary focus of Twenty-One After Days is illumination, that moment in which the world suddenly sparkles in the eye of the beholder and a personal paradigm shift occurs. The thing that ultimately makes this project a bit confounding for me is that, in my experience, when “that moment of understanding” occurs, it is not greeted by phrases that are continually woven together, but by paragraphs that erect a structural lucidity before they once again dissipate. That said, I’m sure there are a myriad number of ways of experiencing illumination. Lubasch’s apparently never congeals into anything other than a phrase or image that is further scattered in the field.
Rightly, though, Lubasch has focused on this moment as the creative person’s initiative. One waits for its intrusion, and one trusts that it will come. Explaining this infatuation, this belief can be difficult to those who move through the world swinging from one willful motivation to another. At the end of the book Lubasch’s speaker/channeler is still waiting for “the plan” to arrive even as “the path of privacy burns out.”Being is always arriving, never quite there.
This speaker/channeler is admirable because of the way she insists on dwelling within that space that has her asking on the last page “Where is the excitement?”This is not easy to do either by will or accident in the age of what I call “the shiny package syndrome.”The voice of the speaker/channeler in Twenty-One After Days is the antidote to the madness of rushing around in order to procure what will sustain the self next. The book is half portrait,, half instruction manual of someone who, in the words of Lubasch, “in advances.”